Amid Record Inflation, Chuck Schumer Seems Ready to Dish out More COVID Relief to Special Interests

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

At a time when inflation is at an all-time high and prices everywhere are soaring, one would think that the best fiscal policy for the U.S. would be whatever means there are of restricting how much money is just flowing out into the economy unchecked, especially things like COVID relief. But sound fiscal policy does not appear to be the name of the game for the Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is set to roll out a government omnibus spending bill that appears to include upwards of $22 billion in more COVID-19 relief.

The White House has also requested $22.5 billion for coronavirus relief. Republicans have balked at the number, arguing that there needs to be an accounting of how previous coronavirus money was spent.

“We have been working on a bipartisan, bicameral basis through the weekend to finish work on an omnibus package that includes robust assistance to the people and government of Ukraine and additional funds to ensure our country is prepared if and when the next COVID variant strikes,” Schumer wrote in the letter.

It appears to be oddly-timed, considering that reporting on COVID-19 has all but vanished since the Democrats realized that such talk was hurting their poll numbers. And while many Americans are still suffering through an absolute economic disaster, throwing more money at the problem will only make things worse.

Republicans are right in wanting a full accounting of where previous money went, too, because it looks like some special interests are positioning themselves to get a large chunk of it (again).

Among those seeking more COVID relief funds? Some supposedly “independent” music venues that are members of a group called NIVA. According to New Music Express, having already secured a federal bailout earlier in the pandemic (a program called “Save Our Stages”) NIVA now “is lobbying for additional funds to deal with ‘inflation and worker shortages compounded by the fact that COVID is still ongoing.’”

Before I go any further, a quick personal note: Back in the mid-2000s, I was in a high school garage band. We played a couple of venues (bars, mostly) in a nearby larger city. Made decent money and had a good time. Placed in the top five in a Battle of the Bands and played in one of the oldest and most recognizable venues in north Louisiana. You will never find me disrespecting smaller groups and artists, and you’ll never find me opposed to bars that serve as performance venues (or, frankly, bars in general). Clubs like this are the backbone of some of the best performing arts out there.

But while the group focuses press attention on struggling smaller artists and independent venues, like any good Beltway swamp advocacy group, NIVA appears to be a stealth operation for very, very well-heeled interests.

A prominent beneficiary of “Save Our Stages” was Dayna Frank, who is the President of NIVA. She’s such a big deal on the Minneapolis-St. Paul music scene that their local magazine dubbed her the “Queen of Clubs”. Frank is so politically well-connected, she was Sen. Klobuchar’s “Virtual Guest” at the 2022 State of the Union Address. No surprise Schumer is probably looking for extra taxpayer cash to throw her way, right? But the thing is, Frank has already had a ton of it, thanks to “Save Our Stages.” According to the Small Business Administration, which administered the program, she has had about $10 million of it. That’s right: $10 million.

Dave Grohl, musician and potential recipient of COVID relief money.

Another prominent NIVA figure who has probably benefited — or certainly fought for the program — is more interesting: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana. Grohl is a primary investor in DC’s Black Cat club, and he’s also on NIVA’s advisory board. Grohl has a reported net worth of $320 million, so I sure hope he/his club, which he could easily have bailed out himself, didn’t get a federal taxpayer bailout. Whether or not he did, he shouldn’t be eligible for one going forward — either through this Schumer omnibus, or through any other “relief” package Democrats have planned.

Here’s someone else that probably doesn’t need your and my money: Seth Hurwitz. Hurwitz is an “impresario” and builder of a “live-music empire” that includes DC’s 9:30 Club as well as other venues. On NIVA’s board, as their Vice President, is Audrey Fix Schaefer who represents Hurwitz’s interests. Research didn’t turn up a net worth figure for Hurwitz (it did for another guy with the same name), but in 2015 he bought a $1.349 million penthouse condo in DC. The likelihood is that he is not struggling for cash, even if some independent musicians and venues are.

As always, I will never be convinced that omnibus bills are good and proper. Break them apart and piecemeal whatever it is you’re trying to do. Especially right now, where Ukrainian aid is concerned. The Democrats are seeking to fund their friends’ special interests and trying to trap Republicans into doing so by tying it to government funding and Ukrainian aid. But COVID-19 relief should be stripped from the bill regardless of whether this package is broken up or not. It will only make problems worse and it appears to be going to groups who don’t need it.

Schumer is going to need Republican votes to get this thing across the finish line, so it’s imperative that Republicans put their foot down. Start offering things like Ukrainian aid packages in separate bills and force Democrats to kill those bills instead. Don’t vote on something like this omnibus bill, which will either make things worse, fund only special interests, or both.